White Collar Criminals

My Thoughts on the Earache Records / Century Media Deal

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Earache CenturyYesterday Earache Records and Century Media announced a partnership in which Century would take on all distribution of Earache’s physical product for the next three years. Century will assist Earache’s staff in sales (obviously), public relations and marketing, while Earache will retain complete A&R control and will still handle all of their artists’ digital distribution (iTunes, Spotify, etc). A lot of folks have been emailing to ask about my thoughts on the deal, so here they are.

This deal is pretty much a no-brainer. Like a good sports trade, both sides stand to benefit in different ways, each side bartering from their strengths to fortify their weaknesses.

Why this deal is good for Earache:

  • Earache’s staff has dwindled to a barebones operation over the past few years, and they could use the extra hands.
  • Earache’s physical product will now be pushed through Red Distribution instead of EMI. Nevermind that EMI was just sold to Universal and who knows what the fuck’s going on over there; Red is a big step-up for Earache anyway. Red handles distribution for just about every metal label in existence. Power in numbers, the sum is greater than the parts, etc.
  • Earache artists stand to benefit from touring opportunities brought their way by Century.
  • Earache keeps all their digital rights. More than any other record label, Earache has thrown all their eggs into the digital basket and is really making a concerted push into the future. Under this deal, Earache can continue down the path they’ve started on instead of handing those responsibilities over to a label that’s historically been more resistant to change.

Why this deal is good for Century Media:

  • Oceano and Rival Sons.
  • Ability to re-issue product from Earache’s legendary back-catalogue (At the Gates, Carcass, Cathedral, Napalm Death, etc) and exploit the fuck out of it through a bigger distribution channel with a more dedicated marketing team than Earache previously had. Releasing records without having to spend money on recording or touring = money on a plate.
  • Increase short-term revenue via physical product sales through CMdistro.com. This is just a temporary bump, though, only sustainable for the next few years or as long as CD sales last; don’t be fooled. Still, temporary bumps keep the lights on, and as long as people are still buying CDs Earache may as well still manufacture them.
  • Century won’t have to deal with the murky and unpredictable future of music shifting entirely into the digital space; leave that to Earache while Century gets in and out with Earache’s physical product in three years time.

As far as I can tell, the only real losers here are the smaller bands on Earache’s roster that could get lost in the Century Media sea of higher priorities. Bands like Bonded by Blood, Gama Bomb, White Wizzard, Hour of 13, Natur, etc, that Earache has invested considerable time and resources in but for whom Century won’t necessarily be motivated to do the same. If I were a member of those bands I’d be a bit worried… but not too worried, since Earache will in fact still be controlling the A&R process and digital distribution.

So, that happened. Expect to see Earache product and artists gain much higher visibility than they have in the past few years, and expect to see a ton of re-issues. Otherwise it’s pretty much business as usual.

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